I learned a version of this song from a Cisco Houston record–he was one of my first heroes, and I learned pretty much all the songs on that record–but once I heard Mississippi John Hurt do it, I switched over to his version. (The same thing happened with Woody Guthrie’s version of “Stagolee.”) For a while, I started every concert with a John Hurt song, and this one served that role for a few years. His music is a perfect bridge between blues and the older African American styles that evolved into country music, and his guitar style was the bedrock for a couple of generations of fingerpickers, me very much included. As for the harmonica, I never mastered the intricacies of tongue blocking, or got my bends and tone where I’d like them to be, but I had a lot of fun with the instrument and even made my living with it off and on, including some memorably anarchic gigs as a sideman for Eric Von Schmidt.
Like most versions of “Pallet on the Floor,” this one seems to be pretty substantially expurgated–Jelly Roll Morton recorded a version for the Library of Congress that gives a better sense of what the whole thing might be about… but, on the other hand, this one is the most bloodthirsty, in a wry, gentle, Hurt kind of way.